For couples who are experiencing male fertility problems, sperm donation (or donor sperm) may be presented as an option. In fact, if you or your partner is experiencing male infertility related to low sperm count, poor motility or abnormal morphology (i.e. abnormally shaped sperm), sperm donation may be the best option. In the United States, some 30,000 children each year are born from mothers who’ve used donor sperm to become pregnant.
What is Donor Sperm?
Donor sperm is sperm that has been taken from a healthy male donor that is then frozen and stored in a sperm bank. This sperm will then be used to fertilize a female egg during infertility treatment – usually during artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization (IVF). The embryo will then be implanted inside the uterus and, if the process is successful, will result in pregnancy. For some couples, sperm donation is the preferred method of becoming parents, as it still allows them to have a child with genetic traits of the woman, and it allows her to experience pregnancy.
When is Donor Sperm Recommended?
Fertility specialists will generally recommend sperm donation for couples in which:
- The male partner has a low sperm count or is suffering from azoospermia (i.e. no sperm in his semen).
- The man has genetic defects, such as hemophilia, that may be transmitted to the child.
- Both partners have normal reproductive organs but may not be able to have a child because of Rhesus incompatibility; rhesus is the antigen present in red blood cells. People who have the Rhesus antigen in their body are Rh positive, while those who don’t, are Rh negative. Sperm donation is a good option for couples with different Rh factors, as these couples will have difficulty conceiving naturally.
- Donor sperms may also be an options for single women or gay couples who wish to have a child.
If, however, the woman has fertility problems such as ovarian failure, sperm donation will likely not be recommended.
Who are the Donors?
If you are considering using donated sperm, you should be aware of the requirements male sperm donors must fulfill. In order to become a sperm donor, a man must:
A potential sperm donor is also required to undergo testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, as well as testing to confirm his blood type. Once all of these requirements have been fulfilled, the donor will then enter into a contract with the bank for a period of six to 24 months. In addition, there is a six-month period in which the sperm will be kept in quarantine to undergo further screening and testing.
All of these requirements refer to cases in which the donor is anonymous. There is also, however the option of having a known donor – that means, using a man you know to become your sperm donor. If you choose to have an anonymous donor (as is most common) you will not know the name, address or any other identifying details of the donor.
Pre-Donation Female Screening
When a couple chooses sperm donation, the female partner must still undergo a fertility evaluation to ensure that she does not have any fertility issues that may complicate the fertilization process. This is also done to ensure that she is matched up with the best donor possible.
The tests themselves will likely include a series of hormonal level tests to determine levels of female reproductive hormones present in the body – namely, estrogen, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and progesterone. These tests can also verify the condition of her reproductive organs.
Other tests may include a pelvic assessment as well as tests for any diseases such as AIDS, hepatitis B/C or syphilis. Additionally, her blood group, blood glucose level, and Rh factor will be tested to ensure she is in good health and to properly determine the best donor.
Finally, some fertility clinics may also want the assurance that the recipients of sperm donation are married or in a stable relationship.
Are there Any Risks?
The most significant risk of using donor sperm is the possibility of infection, especially if you are using a known donor who may not be required to undergo the often more extensive testing used with anonymous donors. Ensuring that your donor undergoes rigorous screening procedures can reduce this risk significantly. That is why it is a good idea to confirm with your doctor or fertility specialist which tests they will be performing.
Other than these physical risks, a couple who chooses sperm donation should be fully aware of any potential legal complications that may result from the sperm donation process. Although sperm donors are required to sign a contract that waives any legal rights they may have to any offspring born from their sperm, this can be an issue for those who use a known donor. Regardless, you should draw up a legal contract with a lawyer that outlines specifically your wishes with regard to any rights the donor will have.
Success Rates and Costs Involved
Sperm donation can be a very successful means of achieving pregnancy, especially when the female recipient is in good medical health and has a reproductive system that is functioning normally.
As for the procedures used to fertilize the female egg, artificial insemination, or IUI, has a success rate of about 11%, while IVF performed with donor sperm is associated with a success rate of 20% to 26%.
In the United States, the cost of anonymous donor sperm ranges between $200 and $3000 per unit of semen. However, the cost of the treatment needs to also be factored in. Costs associated with IUI and IVF range from $300 to over $10,000. If opting for donor sperms, you should also include additional costs of the drugs, treatments, and number of visits when calculating the total potential cost of sperm donation.